Le Docteur Miracle and L’Heure Espagnole

Last night lemur_catta and I braved the blizzard to see students from the Glenn Gould School and the Royal Conservatory Orchestra perform at Koerner Hall. The bill was two French one act comic operas; Bizet’s Le docteur Miracle and Ravel’s L’heure espagnole. Both have extremely silly plots but rather lovely music.

The Bizet piece concerns an officer who is in love with the mayor’s daughter (or maybe his wife, or maybe both. This is French opera) and wins her hand by disguising himself as “Docteur Miracle” and “curing” the mayor who thinks he has been poisoned by an omelette. The omelette gets a lot of air time. In last night’s version heavy use is made of three ballet dancers with omelette making headgear. I have no idea if this idea is original or in the libretto but it was very funny. It’s a pretty conventional early classical piece musically; arias for the soprano, tenor and baritone leads and a lot of ensemble numbers. The dialogue is spoken. It was generally well sung with the stand out being the daughter, a coloratura soprano part, played by Jennifer Taverner. The ensembles worked well except that the very young looking tenor, Zachary Finkelstein, was somewhat underpowered and tended to disappear. Solo, his voice was pleasant enough, if light. Pretty decent performances from baritone Maciej Bujnowicz and mezzo Danielle MacMillan as the mayor and his wife. Excellent work from the orchestra and conductor Uri Mayer.

After the interval we had the much more modern sounding L’heure espagnole by Ravel. In this piece the clockmaker’s wife takes advantage of her husband’s day out fixing the municipal clocks to find a lover. This is complicated by the arrival of a muleteer who needs his watch mending. She gets him out of the way by having him haul clock cases from the shop to her bedroom and back. At various points her two would be lovers; a dull grandee and a verbose poet are concealed in the clock cases and a lot of singing takes place through windows in the front of the clocks. Finally she decides that someone who can tirelessly haul loaded clock cases up and down stairs may have more of what she is after than the other two and takes the muleteer off to bed, sans clock. The work concludes with a quintet confirming that it is, indeed, the muleteer’s day. The work is heavier in tone; through sung and fewer set piece numbers. Bujnowica and Finkelstein appeared again as the lovers but the stars were the bluff, strong baritone of Todd Delaney as the muleteer and Leigh_Anne Martin’s strong soprano as Concepcion. It’s the sort of role that one could easily imagine Anna Netrebko singing and Martin managed the same sense of sly, sexy fun that Trebs brings to roles like Norina. Tenor Andrew Byerlay played the clockmaker. This is a much more musically complex work than the Bizet and uses a pretty large orchestra. I didn’t think the orchestral work was as crisp as in the Bizet but it was fine really.

Koerner Hall is a visually lovely venue with acoustics that help everyone. It’s really pleasant to hear and watch opera in a venue that size, 1100 seats, where every seat, pretty much, is a good one and the sound is excellent. All in all, a fun evening. I’m more and more convinced that I would rather see young artists having fun and really trying to put on a show than watch rather bored experienced professionals do their 200th performance of a work in a routine production in a big opera house. There’s another show on Friday night and decent seats are only $30 so think about it!

The COC crowd were out in force and I spotted Alexander Neef, Simone Osborne and Ambur Braid among others in the audience. One has to give credit to Mr. Neef. He spends a lot of time talent spotting young singers. I guess, given his background in casting in Paris, it’s not so surprising.

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